Design in the South: Social object in teaching and research

Dr Kevin Murray
2014 Conference

The studio craft movement is experiencing a decline. The viability of producing original art works is compromised by the lessening numbers of private and institutional collectors. Compensating for this is the rise of a relational economy, in which the value of cultural goods is associated with their usefulness in building social ties. To prepare students for this, it is important to introduce a conceptual framework that accounts for the role of objects as social connectors. This emerges principally from the social sciences, including anthropology, sociology, as well as psychoanalysis and narrative theory. Key thinkers include Marcel Mauss, Hannah Arendt, Richard Sennett, Bruno Latour, Bonnie Honig and Alfred Hitchcock. This paper outlines principles that underpin the concept of the social object and identifies ways in which students may use it in their outside careers. The touring exhibition Joyaviva: Live Jewellery across the Pacific is given as an example of the creative possibilities offered by this framework. In identifying future directions, this paper concludes with a research project that deconstructs the post-colonial legacy of the trinket, in which the seeming over-estimation of the object was used by colonisers to justify appropriation of land and culture.